Nontroversy: Response to Responses on SAP Closing

Today on Pittsfield.com we received a comment from the former director of Storefront Artist Project who expressed her disappointment in my reporting on the organization’s closing, and that I furthermore “used the news of Storefront’s closing as a personal platform to slander me as well as the organization based on negativity, assumptions, unsubstantiated rumors, and fictitious claims.”   Her comment in its entirety can be found after the article here

Seeing as this was the second defensive bristling seen over this article this week (the first from an SAP board member on Facebook), I felt like a more expansive response was warranted to address some of the misleading statements that have been made since it was published.

I would like to clarify several issues raised here, and enunciate certain of my statements more clearly.

First of all, I would hope that it would be understood by anyone reading the article in question http://bit.ly/uIIU9D that this is in no way an attack by me against anyone.  Nor is it my intent to summarize the entire history of Storefront Artist Project and its considerable contribution to the community here.  That is simply not the focus of the article.

Over the last four years I have lived in Pittsfield, I have attended at least 75% of the openings held by the organization, and seen closer to 95% of the exhibits there.  I have donated money, time, and technical skills to the organization on several occasions.  I donated the wifi router which SAP used for its internet for all of its last year.  Art I have purchased from SAP 12X12 auctions counts among my most treasured possessions.  The idea or implication that I am trying to pull a slash-and-burn attack on this organization is preposterous.  On a purely personal level, it saddens me greatly to report facts which might reflect poorly and incorrectly be seen as taking away from the great work it has done.  Unfortunately, to omit all mention of unpleasant perceptions that have been voiced with regard to SAP’s past year would constitute a level of journalistic bias I simply haven’t been in this business long enough to stomach.

By the by, I thought the “looking-back-on-ten-years” “last hurrah” piece would be more appropriate around December 12, when SAP actually has its closing celebration, from a covering-the-news standpoint. That was my thinking.  The subject of this particular article is the *announcement of SAP’s closing*, an announcement that quite frankly left even the most vocal SAP supporters I talked to asking “Yes, but why?”

That was among the milder feedback I got after the announcement went out,  a sort of collective head-scratching “Ok, Mission Accomplished. Why not keep accomplishing?”

The answers to that question that I heard from literally a couple dozen different people was not especially flattering.  These were  part of tapestry of statements I heard over a course of months, conversations which in many cases took place standing right in the Storefront gallery.  The decision to not publicly trot out a long laundry list of names and negative direct quotes seems the only responsible one I can make, and that is reinforced to me by the reactions I have heard from these two individuals.  Certainly I have no intention of exposing any other individuals to the sort of smearing I received from Mr Tomasi this week simply for mentioning the *existence* of such sentiments and rumors- which, by the way, were already dissected quite publicly on a popular local website BACK IN JULY. see: http://bit.ly/qcrVp3

When this alleged unrest and conflict *first* were brought into public discussion (on this exceedingly well known local blog, allegedly read by thousands) I went directly to the leadership of SAP for their side of the story.  It took quite some time and doing to get in touch, but when I did manage to connect I was given to understand by Board Chair Maria Mingalone that this was not really the case.  I have reproduced her comments on this accurately.  At that time Maria told me that the organization might be facing a transition back to its more rogue, grass-roots origins, and that the possibility of closing the gallery space when the lease ran out at the end of the year was very much on the table, but not because of difficulties within the organization.
Deciding that more coverage of the allegations made in that media outlet, decried as they were by the Chair and (less emphatically) by a couple other board members I spoke to, were not particularly newsworthy and might only serve to make SAP’s organizational decision of how or if they should continue more difficult.  Certainly not the behavior of someone with an ax to grind against the enterprise.

In the period that followed, I continued to hear some unpleasant rumblings.  These magnified and echoed following what most I spoke to saw as a very vague closing statement.

To very specifically answer Julia’s question, though, in fairness,  I have spoken to people about the things she mentions.  I talked to artists who participated in the art show curated in conjunction with WAM’s program who were less than thrilled with its management, including one who wrote a letter to the Ms. Dixon complaining about the manner in which the destruction of their artwork in that show was handled (a copy of which was sent to me unsolicited). Didn’t see the need to include any of this specifically.  I talked to a couple participants in the SUSO group,  who held a couple of meetings hosted by SAP& Emporium last spring, who seemed to recall that Julia was “at one for a few minutes,” before expressing specific gratitude to Carrie Wright, proprietor of the Emporium and spouse of one of SUSO’s co-founders.
This sentiment was repeated by friends and fans of the artist in the glass exhibit which both myself and Julia already mentioned. There was particular enthusiasm for this exhibit, which while occuring in SAP’s space during Ms. Dixon’s tenure as director, to the best of my understanding was initiated, organized and promoted almost exclusively  by Wright.  So the feedback I heard on that exhibit was mostly how great Carrie had been to work with, with asides of with frustration that Ms. Dixon was not seen as involved in the show, nor present at its opening.  Again, didn’t see reason to include it.

I also talked to a lot of fans of Carrie’s store Emporium, for the simple reason that they were ones who had the most to say to me about the issue.   An interesting if biased perspective, as the hardcore friends and frequent shoppers of that store constitute a group of people that have arguably spent more core time inside the South Street space than anyone other than Emporium & SAP paid employees.  *Suffice it to say that I only included in my article the most upbeat and positive quote I managed to cull from that entire subset of people.*

Please note that while there were several more people who said that I could feel free to quote them, their commentary did not appear for the simple reasons that as I’ve stated, this was never meant to be a hatchet-job on SAP nor diminish its overall accomplishments over a decade, nor was it was intended to be a congratulatory tribute to Wright’s hard work as an independent partner of SAP, despite the preponderance of input I got on that score.

I can only repeat as strenuously as I know how:  It was never my intention to attack any individual, and certainly not Storefront Artist Project, an organization which I have vocally and tangibly supported.  If anything, I withheld considerable commentary from multiple sources out of a general affection for SAP matched with the belief that the extent of the public’s right to know the internal business of a private nonprofit arts organization is ultimately pretty finite.

However,  to ignore all such commentary, including that already widely read in another media outlet, to pretend that there were no alternate opinions from other people affected by events there in the past year, and that these haven’t been discussed for months, would be to completely ignore the voice of a whole pocket of the community involved.  It would be a lie.

On the other hand, directly quoting them all by name, in my personal judgement, would be detrimental to them as well as to SAP and other parties, and for no good reason.  I fully understand that this stance makes it easy to take shots at the messenger on this, but I stand by this article as being overall the most representative, conscientious balance I could strike with the story that was in front of me, the sources that talked to me.  [So when I say something like “sources indicated” or what have you, what I mean to say is that is EXACTLY what they darned well indicated, and I will look you straight in the eye and tell you the same, if you like. Except that we both know who a lot of those sources could have been. I simply won’t be baited into throwing them under anyone’s bus by a lot of contrived blustering]

I regret that anyone might feel that this is an affront to them by me personally as opposed to a the conveyance of viewpoints in the community that were well known to exist, with every attempt made to avoid needlessly burning those individuals who took the time to talk to me about these matters.   I very much welcome input from anyone else at SAP.  I would still love to tell the “big picture” story about the organization’s history over all, IN DECEMBER, when it’s appropriate, and to get input from all of SAP on this at the final 12×12. Provided I’m still welcome at the event, which I hope I am.

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We Are the 25 %: A Gen Y Cynic On Why You Should Vote

OTE: Beginning this new blog with a repost of my November 7 editorial on voting for iBerkshires.com- following the publication of this somewhat rambling essay, I received many comments from people who said that they would (for reasons I find hard to grasp) like to hear more of my personal thoughts, observations and, well, feelings on Pittsfield happenings, as I go about the business of covering city news for iBerkshires and Pittsfield.com
PITTSFIELD, Mass.

While watching the election results come in from the Oct. 18 special election for 3rd Berkshire District state representative at the Crowne Plaza, I found myself chatting with City Council-at-Large candidate Nicholas Caccamo about voter turnout.

He mentioned my visit to the hub of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and we made various jokes about being part of “the 25 percent.” That is, the 25 percent who consistently vote, in most elections, national and local, and the 25 percent or so who essentially end up electing even our most significant national figures, when half or more of the eligible citizenry never hits the polls at all.

That night, the final tally was actually just a little over 21 percent of registered voters that turned out (erroneously reported elsewhere as 24 percent). Tricia Farley-Bouvier won with 33 percent, which means Pittsfield will be represented in Boston by someone only 7 percent of voters here specifically supported.

Nick and I are in another 25 percent (or so) niche, as well: voters in the 18-35 demographic. At the risk of oversimplifying, we grew up in an era and culture of interconnected isolationism. More virtually and potentially connected to each other than any group of humans in the history of the world before us, and yet we are arguably more focused on our own individual selves, in terms of our outward expressions and day-to-day activities, than any group of people in living memory. Over the past couple of decades, an enormous shift has taken place in interests and time spent, from those based around family units, clubs and large group participation to individual pursuits, whether health and self-betterment activities or individualized recreation alone or in small cliques of friends.

As part of that shift from community and larger social concerns, we grew up in a time where it was basically uncool to vote, to be interested in politics. Most of us heard early and often how fatally screwed up The System has become, how corrupt and purchased it all is. Rather than face the ongoing rage and frustration so visibly experienced by the activists of all shades we saw around us, most just turned the sound down on the whole noise. In some quadrants the mere suggestion that any type of voting could ever make a difference brings half-sneering, half-guilty lectures.

I’ve operated more of both my youth and adult life in those quadrants than in the mainstream, so in some ways I thought it was high time to voice some of my sentiments on this issue. As someone who has been described at various times as a “radical,” “anarchist” and even “fascist”; as someone who in a long enough discussion of views is bound to offend almost anyone of any political persuasion, eventually.

So, when I talk about voting, try to keep in mind that this is coming from someone who is as disgusted as anyone by the behavior of government, someone who has over the course of my life created ugly spectacles while officials were giving speeches, and run from cops at protests gone awry; someone who felt ill after voting in my first presidential election in 2000, applied for Australian citizenship after 2004, and I’m pretty sure was on an informal “keep-away-from-the-Senator” list among Kerry staffers for a number of years. You’re talking to someone who knows all about the evils of campaign financing and the distortion machine of media coverage from pretty close to inside the belly of the beast.

If you vote, and have usually voted in most elections, and see it as an uncomplicated civic duty to perform … well, that’s great. You and I probably have less in common, though, with the people who this editorial is actually directed to. I’m speaking now primarily to the other 50-75 percent of over-18 adults in America, in particular to those who, as opposed to just being lazy or unaware, are just a bit jaded about the whole thing. It is you who are my most natural constituency, and I’m going to tell you now why I vote anyway, and why you probably should too.

A wise man once told me that “To run for office you need to believe, or pretend you believe, that the fundamental nature of your government is good, valid, and basically works. To be involved in politics, you only need to realize it’s the only game in town.”

This is the crux of it to me, this prosaic fact that whatever you or I think about it, this is what we have. This is the hand we we were dealt, the game we walked in on. This is the game which ends up deciding how much of our earnings we get to keep, how many hours our boss can make us work, the roads we drive to work on, the circumstances under which we can be suddenly arrested and detained on those roads. I vote because all this is and a lot more is at stake every time names are put on a ballot before us.

I will vote this Tuesday because in a country where, as you read this, so many feel so alienated and unheard by their elected officials that they risk injury and arrest in the streets, local elections are in some ways the most important to vote in. These are people who live in or near your town, people who will return your emails or phone calls, people who have offices you can visit if they don’t. These are the people who decide the issues which effect you the most, on a daily basis. Supporting the candidates you think most represent your views and are most accessible to your needs when they’re right there in your own town is the most obvious thing you could ever do to take some control over the events that effect your daily life.

I’ll do it because on Oct. 14 I went to Zuccotti Park in New York City on the day that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators were to be evicted from the square by the city. What I saw there that day was thousands of people that included auto workers, garbage men, teachers, librarians, among people of many other professions and lifestyles, who had been arriving in droves since midnight the night before.

They came to stand with, and potentially be arrested with, demonstrators who for the past month had occupied the area and marched throughout the financial district for redress of economic grievances. What I saw was an assortment of people who sincerely had hope for real change in our time, a hope that seemed to grow contagious as the city of New York stood down and over the next 24 hours 50,000 marched there, along with millions more in another 1,000 cities worldwide.

Whatever you or I think of their politics or way the movement has been conducted, I believe that most of those people are there because they believe that drastic action, and sometimes shocking commitment, is needed to draw sufficient attention to entrenched problems in our country and government. I believe it is a mistake to conclude, as some have, that all these protestors are people who are complaining but do not vote. In one memorable instance, I spoke with a woman named Lorraine, who told me cheerfully she had voted in every single election for which she’d been eligible since 1960, and on top of that participated in “hundreds and hundreds” of demonstrations and peaceful resistance actions.

I will vote Tuesday in tribute to Lorraine.

More importantly, I’ll do it because over the past decade I watched a cross section of friends and former schoolmates return from two brutal overseas wars, their lives inevitably altered forever … or, in a couple of cases, not return at all. Whatever you or I think about the political decisions that lead those men and women into those situations, the unalterable fact is that they went to those places and they did those things because they took an oath that they would. They committed to the defense of the political decisions of the United States, all knowing that the possibility existed that it might eventually cost them everything.

I’ll vote because the fact that they went into those conflicts on the decisions of leaders that a quarter or less of the citizenry put into power is a dark stain on the history of this nation that future generations will now inherit along with all the others.

I will do it because the time and “hassle” of voting is utterly insignificant when measured alongside those kinds of sacrifices.

I will vote because history has this oft-mentioned tendency to repeat itself.

YOU should vote because having spot checked dozens of residential areas in both Pittsfield and North Adams, I’ve concluded that on average the time it takes to get from most homes to your polling place, vote, and be back home in your slippers is between 20 and 25 minutes.

You should vote because it really shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to basically familiarize yourself with the candidates you’re choosing between and have some sentiment one way or the other. Refer to our coverage here on iBerkshires http://www.iberkshires.com/blogs/election2011 and the debates archived online by your local access television for help in brushing up.

You should vote because we both know that no two candidates in any election are really identical, and that that’s just one more silly excuse not to just suck it up and do it.

You should vote because it makes us look less like jerks in front of all these other countries.

You should vote because, at the end of the day, all of the excuses not to are sort of cop-outs.

You should vote because if you don’t, someday you may come to wish you did.